Translated from Files of Faa-Samoa. The Deacon of the Catholic Church at Leauvaa-Uta has expressed his disappointment and sorrow at the demolition of a statue of the Holy Mother which he says had once stood by their chapel.
The statue of Mary, Holy Mother of Christ was destroyed as machines continue to descend upon Leauvaa-Uta, clearing up land belonging to Afega which had been settled by villagers of Leauvaa over the years.
While Afega is giving residents the opportunity to leave their homes, clearing works are leveling anything surrounding homes and buildings.
Deacon Efaraima Auala, who is currently the caretaker of the Catholic Church at Leauvaa-Uta says he is saddened at the way the statue of the Holy Mother was bulldozed before the Church was given a chance to remove it themselves.
According to Deacon Efaraima, he had to walk away and could not bear to watch as machines cleared the area by the church, including the statue of the Holy Mother.
“We thought there would be an opportunity to discuss the removal. I don’t know how to explain what happened.”
According to the deacon, there were signs that day, after the statue was destroyed.
“I saw smoke from the machines, and then one machine stopped and appeared to be damaged,” he said.
“The skies were clear, yet there was thunder, and lightning was seen coming down towards toward a nearby power line.”
“These are signs of the significance of Mother Mary. She is in the hearts of the people. She offers comfort in times of pain and suffering, and in times of trouble.”
Deacon Efaraima says the Afega works have included the clearing of plantations; “cocoa, banana, taro, peanut and tobacco farms and vegetable farms which families had once relied on for income..”
“All are destroyed.” (“Ua faaleagaina uma.”)
“It’s not just the front of the homes, there are similar scenes at the back of the homes in Leauvaa-Uta. Its all gone. Just the houses and buildings remain standing.”
Machines are removing gardens right up to the front door and anything surrounding the houses,” he adds.
The land dispute between Afega and Leauvaa dates back to Lands and Titles Court cases of 1952 and and appeal case of 1963.
Last week before Christmas, the LTC ruled on an application by 18 families in Leauvaa-Uta requesting an interim order to stop the Afega village clearing works, stating that appeals to the 60 year old court decision have been lodged.
However, in handing down its decision LTC President Lesatele Rapi Vaai said the Court upholds its decision; that lands behind the 763 acres gifted by Afega to the people of Leauvaa, belongs to the Alii & Faipule of Afega under the faamalumaluga of Fata ma Maulolo.
High Chiefs of Afega village, Fata and Maulolo, had gifted lands to welcome settlers who had relocated from Savaii to Upolu during the 1905—1911 eruption of Mt Matavanu.
Le’auva’a (people from the boat) was founded by villagers from Mauga and Samalaeʻulu in Savaii. They settled on land gifted by Afega.
The 1963 Court decision states that customary lands behind the gifted area going inland (tua atu o le 763 eka) belong to the Village Council of Chiefs of Afega, under Fata and Maulolo as custodians on behalf of the village.
The clearing works is understood to be a message from Afega to the Leauvaa-Uta community, that their time of illegal occupancy of the lands in dispute, has come to an end.
Homes are being left for the moment, to give families time to relocate away from the area of land. However clearing works go right up to the doorsteps of homes where families have settled for decades.
President of the Lands and Titles Court, Lesatele Rapi Vaai said there was no legal authority to set aside the 1963 decision.
“O fanua uma e i tua atu o le 723 eka, e pulea e Alii ma Faipule o Afega.”
Lesatele Rapi added that the families occupying the Afega lands were doing so illegally and any attempts by these families to stop clearance works would place them in contempt of Court.
The President had also pointed out that occupying the lands with the knowledge of the 1963 decision, was also a violation of the law.
The move to clear the land is led by Member of Paroiament for Sagaga 2 Hon. Maulolo Tavita Amosa, who has taken a lot of heat for the stance taken by Afega to claim back the lands being occupied.
The clearance works are being carried out by businessman Ututaaloga Charlie Ulia, owner of Ulia Construction and high chief of Afega.
In response to enquires from SGN, Hon Maulolo Tavita Amosa released a five page written statement from the village of Afega, published here in full.
“Read this written statement. That is our response.. the time given by Afega to those occupying the lands, is over…”
The written statement is signed by Hon. Maulolo, Ututaaloga Charlie Ulia and village mayor, Fata Roketi.
It cites court decision LC2253 from 1963, which has been upheld twice by the Lands and Titles Court.
“This is proof of the authority of Afega in all lands behind the 723 acres.. In other words, this legal decision is very firm.”
“O lona uiga, ua matua mausali lenei faaiuga”
In relation to the decision to delay the works, the LTC President said that would best be dealt with through a consultative process between Afega and Leauvaa-Uta.
However, Hon. Maulolo Tavita Amosa remains adamant, the residents affected had been given reasonable notice and have known for many years that Afega intended to claim back the lands, and no more time will be given.